White Mountains AZ

Looking out across Big Lake in AZ remembering all the good times on this lake fishing for trout.

I get asked often what got me into fly fishing for trout. I fell in love with trout fishing at a very young age while camping in the White Mountains in Northeastern Arizona. I’ll get into much more detail down below, but first I’ll talk about the techniques we used. I started out as a bait fisher using a technique we called ninja fishing. We fished pretty small freestone rivers and creeks that were tight with trees, bushes, logs, log jams and boulders scattered about. We had spinning rods, but we used kind of a euro-nymphing/tenkara technique to get in and around all the obstacles. I would place a single salmon egg on the hook and maneuver it into place with a flick and get a great drift under a dirt ledge or tree or log or grass and out would pop a trout to get the egg. I would set the hook and just kind of fling it towards the shore and then take it off the hook. We could usually get a couple trout in each spot before we had to move on. If I missed a couple bites and couldn’t get them to respond anymore then I would try a fresh worm that we dug up earlier that morning. If that didn’t work then I would try a single kernel of corn. Usually one of those 3 baits would do the trick. If not, then you just moved onto another spot in the creek to see what you could pull out.

When I moved to Arkansas I was excited to learn they had trout fishing below Beaver Lake Dam on the White River also known as the Beaver Tailwaters. I fished the White River a few times those first few years, but was confused on what to do because it was such a bigger body of water. The ninja fishing technique wasn’t really possible because the river was 100ft wide instead of 10ft wide. It was also ironic to fish a river with the same name, White River, that I grew up fishing on in AZ. So those first years I fished the White River like a lake, put power bait on a hook with weight and threw it out there and waited. We would sit there and wait for a bite and maybe catch a few trout, I really didn’t enjoy it.

As my kids got older and I didn’t have to coach all their sports, my weekends started freeing up so I started to fish more again. This time I used lures instead of bait most of the time. I would throw rapalas, rooster tails and various spinners and had marginal luck. What I did start to notice was the fly fishers. I thought that was interesting and maybe something I should try. So one day I went and bought a cheap fly fishing kit and took on the challenge of learning this new type of fishing called fly fishing. That’s how I started, not having any idea how I would fall in love with fly fishing, maybe addicted, and then becoming a guide teaching others.

Getting back to my younger years, we would spend summer vacations camping and fishing in the White Mountains in Arizona. People not familiar with Arizona don’t realize what a ecological diverse state Arizona is. They seem to only associate it with it’s hot all the time. Arizona has HOT sand dunes at sea level in the bottom left of the state around Yuma and then has Flagstaff in the north central part of the state to Show Low to the far right near the New Mexico border with elevations from 5000 to 7000ft with peaks over 10,000 ft with ski resorts on them. In between those extremes are bountiful farms, mining towns, and of course great cities like Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff.

From my earliest memories I remember heading to the White Mountains in the summer to camp to escape the summer heat near Phoenix where the temperature highs would average over 110 degrees Fahrenheit from June to August. In the White Mountains we would be blessed with highs in the low 80’s with nights in the 50’s. It was such a reprieve from the oppressive heat in the Valley.

Upper Log White River AZ

Some of my earliest memories are from camping at Upper Log on the White River near Whiteriver, AZ. During the day I remember running free around the camping area where we would fish, swim, build dams, hike and get every pair of clothes dirty. At night I remember sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows and burning sticks and just having a great time telling stories of the day.

Swing at the Spring to get drinking water.

In the early years we were tent campers until we graduated to campers. We didn’t have any services so we would have to refill our water containers every other day or so and there was this huge swing there. I remember flying through the air on that swing as we filled up all our water containers.

Me playing with a water snake.

There was always plenty of wildlife on these trips. I always loved catching the water snakes around the river. There were also frogs, deer, elk, chipmunks, squirrels and lots of birds to entertain ourselves with.

Cousin Chris with busted head.

One crazy memory I have is of my cousin Chris busting open his forehead. We were both on a big log challenging each other to see who could reach further down over the log. We were laying on our bellies on the log and would go head first over the side and see if we could reach the water and then wiggle back up. Well Chris being the super competitive one he is, went a little too far and slid off the log head first onto a boulder near the creek side. They took him to the hospital where he got many stitches to close it up.

L-R: Chris, Me, My Grandma, brother Doug, Carrie and Stephanie.

One of my last trips to White River we took my Grandma for a fishing trip. We found a great fishing hole and caught tons of fish for my mom to take home. Little did I know that would be the last fishing trip in the White Mountains with my Grandma and my brother Doug. It was great day!!

Our catch at Big Lake around 1984

That picture above is from around 1984 in the parking lot of the Big Lake Store. We had a pretty productive day and we needed to get a picture in front of my dads Dodge truck that he was so proud of. I’m sure it makes the fish look more impressive as well.

Crazy to think the limit was 10 trout back then.

Here we are with our catch all cleaned. My brother caught the biggest that day I remember. The reason it was so vivid is because my brother always had some issue with his fishing pole. He spent more time out of the water than in. My poor dad would spend so much time trying to untangle his mess. So it was surprising he caught anything, let alone the biggest.

Big Lake General Store

I loved going in the Big Lake General Store. We would get some bait, snacks and drinks and head out for a day of fishing. I always wanted to work there for a summer when I was a teenager.

Original candy tray from back in the day

I remember pulling all my money out of the piggy bank for our summer trip to the White Mountains. We would stop at a Yellow Front store in Show Low to buy some fishing supplies. It was a store like the current day Dollar General, but had much more outdoor supplies. I would buy another Barlow pocket knife that I would always lose. The rest of the money went for snacks. One snack that I remember always wanting was a full roll of Lifesavers in the Wild Cherry flavor. I would buy one just about every time we visited the Big Lake Store. When I took my daughter to the store just recently they still had the rack I remember, but it was covered up with a hand written sign for some other popular candy of today, but behind the sign was the original Wild Cherry slot. I still bought a roll of Life Savers of multi flavors and just savored the flavor as I stared out across Big Lake. That’s what brought the most emotion out of me.

Just had to get a pic by the Big Lake sign. It was pretty emotional visiting this area. All the memories that stirred in my brain. I hadn’t been her since my brother died in 1999. I shed a tear or 100 as I walked around and reminisced and shared with my daughter some of my memories.

I know that might have got a little sappy, but it was fun to share a few of my memories with you on why I love trout fishing. Trout fishing has such a strong tie in all my earliest memories. I love trout fishing and I especially love fly fishing for trout.

Thanks for reading and hope to see you for a fly fishing trip in Northwest Arkansas.

Erik

2 Replies to “White Mountains AZ”

  1. Erik, thank you so much for that memory/journey/emotion/so much more…. I don’t spend much time in LinkedIn, but tonight was meant to be. Wishing you and your family all the best!
    Michael

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